Sunday 31 May 2020

Coalition split as CDA, D66, ChristenUnie call for change to child refugee amnesty

Refugees at Ter Apel

Photo: Peter de Ruiter/ UNHCR Brussel

Three of the four Dutch coalition parties are now in favour of changes to the amnesty for well-rooted child refugees, saying the current situation is ‘untenable’.

Some 400 children, many of whom were born in the Netherlands, are currently threatened with deportation because they don’t meet the terms of the amnesty, which was established in 2013.

Campaigners and child rights groups say the rules – including the proviso that refugees cooperate with efforts to deport them – make it almost impossible to qualify. Very few children have benefited from the amnesty in the past five years.

The Christian Democrats and D66 launched their campaign for change in interviews with the Dutch media on Saturday, and ChristenUnie leader Gert-Jan Segers then twittered his support.

‘We recognise that the situation is not sustainable,’ CDA parliamentarian Madeleine van Toorenburg told Radio 1 news.

Currently, missing a meeting with the immigration service can be enough to show that the family has not cooperated, she said in the AD.

She said the two parties were now calling for change following the publication of a report by 38 professors which said children faced with deportation undergo extreme stress.

Majority support

The change of heart means there is now majority support in parliament for a rethink, broadcaster NOS said.

The coalition parties want junior immigration minister Mark Harbers to go through all 400 cases on the ‘reject’ pile  and use his discretionary powers to grant them the right to stay.

Harbers, a member of the fourth coalition party, the VVD, told the NOS on Saturday afternoon that he had set up an independent commission to look at all aspects of the problem. ‘It is no secret that there are different thoughts about this subject within the coalition,’ he said.

‘That is why we have made agreements and they are in the coalition accord. That is my guide.’

Coalition agreement

The VVD has always resisted changes to the amnesty rules. Prime minister Mark Rutte, also from the VVD, has not yet commented on the change of heart by his coalition partners but VVD parliamentarian Malik Azmani said that ‘everyone is free to think what they like’.

‘We assume that the agreements made in the coalition agreement will be respected,’ his spokesman told the AD.

Petition

Television presenter Tim Hofman, who has gathered over 250,000 signatures on a petition calling for a rethink, said: ‘The CDA has woken up. Godamm, what good news, unbelievable.’

Hofman was spurred into action following attempts to deport two Armenian children to Armenia, even though they had never lived there and did not speak the language. Howick and Lili were eventually granted residency rights.

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